Over the past few weeks, organizations that provide or support affordable housing programs across West Virginia have been raising their voices about a proposed new legislation that would change the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. (check out the Hub blog’s previous story on this bill).
Bills to eliminate the Affordable Housing Trust Fund board and consolidate the programs of the Trust Fund into the WV Housing Development Fund were introduced in the House and Senate last week. The Senate bill (SB 397) was on the agenda of the Senate Government Organization Committee Tuesday afternoon.
The committee chairman, Senator Craig Blair, relaxed the committee meeting process to allow for public comments on the bill because of the large public turnout at the meeting.
The first speaker was Secretary Robert Kiss from the State Tax Department. Secretary Kiss, who serves as chair of the Housing Development Fund’s board, spoke at length on behalf of the Governor in support of the bill. He stated that the primary purpose of the bill was to improve efficiencies between the Trust Fund and the Housing Development Fund. He cited challenges the Trust Fund has had with achieving a quorum on its board and conflict of interest challenges it has had with finding board members for certain, statutorily-identified seats. Additionally, because the Trust Fund has only one staff member, there was some concern that it wouldn’t be able to handle managing federal money with the same ease as the Housing Development Fund, which employees 111 people.
Brandon Dennison, executive director of Coalfield Development Corporation, spoke in opposition to the bill. Coalfield Development Corporation is a social enterprise organization covering Wayne, Lincoln and Mingo counties that provides training and jobs in the construction and deconstruction industry, and uses its quality jobs program to construct affordable housing in highly rural, impoverished regions of southern West Virginia.
Dennison spoke about the support his organization has received from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the ease of access to grants and loans available to nonprofit housing entities through the Trust. While
Dennison’s group also works with the Housing Development Fund, he stated that the Housing Development Fund operates like a financial institution – a bank – and is risk-averse to supporting more innovative projects like some of those undertaken by his group. The Trust Fund has served as an agency that fills that gap and provides grants to innovative affordable housing development projects, managing $800,000 worth of funds with one employee.
Quoting his grandfather, he said “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He also suggested that a mechanism to address the concerns raised by the Governor’s office relating to board quorum could be easily addressed by the Governor filling the three seats on the Trust Fund board that are currently vacant.
Senate committee members had a number of concerns about eliminating the Trust Fund and consolidating it into the Housing Development Fund. Senator Ron Miller (Greenbrier Co.) suggested that a better fix to the challenges that the Governor had identified would be to amend the statute governing the Trust Fund to revise the requirements for board members and enable vacant positions to be filled more easily.
The Committee eventually determined that outstanding questions and concerns with the bill justified it being sent to a Subcommittee for further consideration.
If you are interested in following what is happening with their efforts, or expressing an opinion on what should happen with the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the best way to make your voice heard is to call the committee chairman, Senator Craig Blair (304-357-7867).